He did it! After five years of struggle and, let’s be real, very limited practical success, Charles the Simple finally became West Frankish king. Most of the reason for this appears to have been the fact that Odo was remarkably willing to deal with Charles despite his generally holding the upper hand. Charles’ legitimacy, as the son of a king, is probably the key factor here. Odo was childless (there is a reference in a Breton charter to a man named Guy, son of King Odo, which is strange and probably interpolated), and there’s no reason to think that merely being a king’s brother gave Robert of Neustria any claim on the throne.
And so, early in 898, Odo died, and was buried in Saint-Denis. A month or so later, Charles the Simple came there and issued this diploma.
In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by grace of God king.
If We lend Our ears to the petitions of servants of God for places given over to the saints, We in no way doubt that this will benefit Us in obtaining both prosperity in the present life and blessing in the future life.
Wherefore let it be known to all the faithful of the holy Church of God, to wit, present and future, that the venerable brothers of Our special patron lord Dionysius and his companions, coming before Our presence, appealed to Our Clemency that We might command the immunity within the castle of the same place, which has been newly constructed, concerning land which the brothers have been seen to hold from olden times for divers offices and needs to be reinforced by a precept of Our authority.
Lending the ears of Our Clemency to their fitting petition, because it appeared to be valid and advantageous, with the consent of Our followers, that is, venerable bishops, the venerable bishop Honoratus [of Beauvais] and the equally-illustrious pontiff Ralph [of Laon], and also Our most beloved mother Adelaide, We established through this precept of Our Royal Dignity for the same greatly devoted worshippers of that venerable place that, from the gate of the castle which overlooks the chapel of Saint-Rémi up to the gate which was of old established in front of the paupers’ hospice, to wit, the paupers’ hospice itself and the land which is seen to pertain to their bakery and the whole little grange of the brothers with the rear gate which they made to allow egress from divers offices, and also as well the land which is seen to pertain to the lighting of Saint-Denis, and, on the side beyond the Crould, from the guest’s dormitory which has been there for a long time up to the cobblers’ workshop, no-one should ever presume to inflict any disturbance or trouble upon them, nor should any lodging manager offer lodging to anyone therein. Rather, let it quietly persist under the power of the same servants of God without being dominated by anyone, so that, having removed all excuse for disturbance or violence from anyone, they might be able to soldier for the Lord more freely in the same sacred abbey.
Moreover, because they have in the aforesaid castle endured no small shortage of wood, which they were once accustomed to bring from the woodlands of Brie by boat, they also humbly appealed to Us through Our said followers that We might bestow on them the wood which is named Coye to supply wood for needs of these sort, and the homestead which is seen to lie there, with bondsmen of both sexes, and vineyards, meadows, pastures, fields, waters and watercourses, and whatever is recognised as being beholden to that homestead.
Not denying that petition in any way either, We voluntarily bestowed on them them that for which they importuned, for love of God and because of their no small advantage, concerning which largess of Our Highness We decreed this precept of Our authority be made. Also, so that through the course of times to come it might in the name of God obtain a greater vigour of firmness, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.
Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.
Heriveus the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archchancellor Fulk [of Rheims].
Given on the 6th ides of February [8th February] in the first indiction, in the fifth year of the reign of Charles, the most glorious of kings, in the first of his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.
Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Denis.
Happily in the name of God, amen.
To start with, the petitioners, who are a delicately-selected bunch. The significance of Queen Adelaide, Charles’ mother, is fairly self-apparent: she was Charles’ closest supporter and had stayed with him during the wilderness years. Ralph of Laon, on the other hand, had been one of Odo’s supporters and had probably been in Laon when Charles and Zwentibald attacked it. Honoratus is, in this reading, a mediating figure: although loyal to King Odo, he had been quite close to Charles’ backer Archbishop Fulk of Rheims. What we have here, then, is a spectrum of petitioners from across the political spectrum of the last few years.
Even more, this diploma was issued at one of the core royal monasteries, Saint-Denis, a short while after the previous king was buried there. We must, I think, see this diploma in terms of Charles visiting his predecessors’ tombs and, finally, getting that link to St Dionysius he’d wanted years previously. This diploma therefore stands as a performative statement of Charles’ kingship.
It has even previously been analysed that way by Geoff Koziol. Koziol, however, gets the context of this diploma wrong by reading it as Charles’ insult to Robert, usurping Saint-Denis from the control of the Robertian family. This seems implausible. Koziol assumes that Robert would have thought that Saint-Denis should have gone to him, which seems unlikely – equivalent royal sites such as Compiègne and Verberie passed uncontroversially from King Odo to King Charles rather than to Odo’s brother Robert, and given Saint-Denis’ importance to kingship, why should it have been different? In fact, a new king setting himself up at Saint-Denis was an entirely normal thing to do. Charles’ regime was off to a competently-executed start.